Having a basketball star also participate in another sport, especially at the college level, is even rarer. Basketball season overlaps both fall (football) and spring (lacrosse, track, crew, baseball) seasons, so it’s difficult for an athlete to participate in more than basketball, especially if basketball is his primary sport.
Basketball was invented by Dr. Naismith as an activity for his college’s athletes to participate in during the long winter months, between football and the spring sports. So it’s no surprise that in the early years of college sports, there were a lot of football stars who also played basketball. That trend probably held true even in the late 1920’s, and for some football players into the 1930s.
Syracuse has had its share of two sport stars, particularly those who played basketball and other sports. Pre 1930, there’s a long list of ‘Who’s Who’ in Syracuse sports, guys who played both football and basketball. Most noteworthy would be Vic Hanson, who was strong enough at both sports to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Basketball Hall of Fame (the only person to have accomplished that feat, and it will probably stay that way with the disappearance of the two sport star). Others included John Barsha (3 sports), Beal Banks (4 sports), Vic Baylock (3 letters in football and basketball), Ken Beagle (baseball and basketball), Gotch Carr (3 sports), Lew Castle (3 sports), Eddie Dollard (basketball and baseball), Bill Eisemann (baseball and basketball), Clinton Goodwin (4 sports), Tuppy Hayman (baseball and basketball), Ev Katz (track and basketball), Billy Rafter (3 sports), Joe Schwarzer (3 sports), Wilmeth Sidat-Singh (football and basketball), and Billy Thompson (3 sports). And there are several others.
Even Jim Boeheim was a two sport star at Syracuse, lettering in basketball and golf.
So on the verge of the 2007 college football season, I decided to focus on putting together the All Syracuse Basketball team, but only include those guys who also played Football for the Orangemen. And, I’m going to restrict myself to having guys who legitimately played both sports, not those guys who ‘drank a cup of coffee’ in basketball (such as J.J. Bedle and Melvin Tuten). Also guys like Rob Moore are excluded. Moore was an outstanding high school basketball player and clearly could have played Division I basketball and been a star, but the fact is that he did not play collegiate basketball.
I’ll admit, this team is going to have some great athletes on it, and a lot of hustle, but will probably lack in height.
I’m going to put 6’2”, 212 lb Ernie Davis on my squad. His football commitments limited his time on the hardwood, but he did average 10.2 ppg (points per game) and 9.6 rpg (rebounds per game) when he did get on the court.
Jim Brown easily makes the team. At 6’2”, 212 lbs, he was a tremendous rebounder and he averaged 13.1 ppg for his career at Syracuse. He played 43 basketball games, so he brings a lot of experience to the squad.
Vic Hanson is hands down on the squad. He was only 5’10”, 175 lbs, but he was one of the top two players in college basketball for his era. As mentioned earlier, he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, so you know he had some talent. Though he played forward, the ball was in his hands an awful lot. He had 14.1 ppg for his career which spanned 54 games.
John Mackey makes the squad, barely. He played only 6 games, but he had significant playing time in those games, and he averaged 4.7 ppg and 4.7 rpg. At 6’3”, 222 lbs, he’ll bring some athletic muscle to the squad.
Maury Youmans, at 6’5”, 251 lbs makes the squad. He was a reserve for two seasons, and while he did not play a lot, he brings some size to this squad.
Xzavier Gaines gets at spot at 6’4”, 198 lbs. He was a reserve for two seasons, appearing in only 11 games in limited time, averaging 0.2 ppg. However, he left Syracuse after his junior season, and he averaged 13.2 ppg for Division II Northwest Missouri State, along with 4.7 rpg, a 38.7% 3 point shooting accuracy, and 73.6% free throw shooter.
Donavan McNabb makes the team at 6’2”, 224 lbs. He was a reserve for two seasons, playing in 18 games, averaging 2.3 ppg. Coach Boeheim always hinted that McNabb could have been a star in basketball if he focused on it, and several players have credited McNabb’s character with keeping the team ‘loose’ during its 1996 NCAA tournament run.
Joe Schwarzer makes the team at 5’11”, 159 lbs. He was a two time All-American in basketball, and captained the 1918 National Championship team. He played center in his era; the center literally was the center of action, and all ball movement went through him, so Schwarzer could handle the ball. He averaged 10.1 ppg his senior season, and was the best free throw shooter on the squad.
Wilmeth Sidat-Singh makes the team at 6’0”, 190 lbs. He was a tremendous defensive force at guard, with lightning quick reflexes and the star quarterback of the football team.
Pat Stark makes the squad at 6’0”, 172 lbs. Stark had 9.7 ppg his senior season, and played two years for the Orangemen basketball team. He set the Syracuse freshman single game scoring record of 28 points (since broken) and in high school scored 78 points for Vocational High School (then a NY state record) and 60 points for Virginia Military Academy (then a Virginia state record).
Malik Campbell makes the squad at 6’3”, 178 lbs. Campbell played 31 games for Syracuse basketball, with 2.1 ppg, and 1.0 rpg.
That leaves one more spot on the roster to get to 12. My last two choices were between Gotch Carr (5’10”, 165 lbs), who letter 7 times in 3 sports, and Pete MacRae (6’1”, 175 lbs). Carr was an outstanding athlete, gifted runner was great speed. He averaged about 4 ½ points a game in college basketball as a starter who focused on defense. MacRae was the starting center for three seasons, had great hands and was one of the teams top scorers his senior season. I’m going to go with MacRae here; the size admittedly helps him, and being an offensive threat helps.
So I’ve got a twelve man squad. I’m going to start the following five: Donovan McNabb and Vic Hanson at guard, Jim Brown and Ernie Davis at forward, and 6’5” Maury Youmans at center. Youmans is going to have a very difficult time at center (he’s going to have to do his best Andre Hawkins impression). Xzavier Gaines and John Mackey are my likely backup centers, based on height alone (at 6’4” and 6’3”). If Melvin Tuten had played a little more college basketball, I would have considered him eligible to pick and he’d be my starting center; but 4 games of scrub minutes isn’t enough time for my qualifications.
My squad is going to be extremely athletic, and very strong. I imagine a lot of hustle, with them all being two sport stars with football experience, and I expect a lot of physical play. I think I’ll have to go with a lot of pressure defense, and hope the guards and forwards can force turnovers; a half court set will kill the team, though we’ll definitely fall into a 2-3 zone once the press is broken. I’ll be able to rotate players through the guard and forward positions pretty easily and pretty much interchangeably, so keeping the players fresh will not be a problem (plus world class athletes like Brown and Davis won’t be tired).
I figure with the proper training, these guys could win maybe half their games in the Big East, and would be a top tier squad in the smaller conferences. They wouldn’t be able to handle the top 40 squads on a regular basis, but the athletic ability and talent is there. I know I wouldn’t want to get into a brawl with these guys.